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Showing posts from December, 2016

Thought for the Day: מודה במקצת -- Taking an Oath for Partial Admission

While still just a lad and when TV was only black and white, I knew very little about courtroom procedure.  I had some, of course, because of Divorce Court and Perry Mason.  They drama was always introduced by a witness being called and then asked if he swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  The witness, of course, always answered, "I do."  (Similar to getting married, when you also make promises without thinking too much.)

One may very well ask: What's the point?  I mean, was he planning on lying, but the clever court system has boxed him into a corner?  What corner?  If he was planning to lie anyway, what's one more lie?  The answer, I found, is that lying is not a crime (apparently) unless you specifically affirm/swear that you won't.  Another explanation I saw was that it is a reminder to the witness to answer the question he is being asked and only the question he is being asked.  That is: if the lawyer asks, "Do you have …

Thought for the Day: Backing into Kabbalah from Halacha

Do you like kabbalah?  Why?  I mean, I know why I find it interesting.  After all, I like theoretical physics.  I specifically studied physics because I wasn't interested in how anything in particular worked, I was only interested in how everything, everywhere worked.  I thought that if I knew the fundamental principles of how everything, everywhere worked, then I could figure out how anything in particular worked.  That was the working hypothesis.

A friend in the dorms once once trying to install a dimmer in his room (not authorized, of course).  He was downcast because the circuit breaker box was locked (shocking; pun intended) and so he couldn't shut off power to his room while installing the switch.  I, being a physics major (and with all the arrogance of youth on top of my own natural arrogance), quickly assessed the situation and announced my judgement: "As long as the dimmer is off while installing, no electricity will be running through it, so there is no problem …

Thought for the Day: Making Mistakes and Moving Forward

Robert Wilson was, in my mind, that last of the great physicists.  He was an expert in both theoretical and experimental physics, and also intensely practical.  He was, for example, the first director of Fermilab -- the preeminent high energy physics laboratory in the world when it was built and for decades afterward -- and as director he opened the lab ahead of schedule and under budget.  (An amazing feat for any project of that scale; nigh on miraculous for a government project.)

I have a reason for telling you all this, but first I have an admission to make.  I was late for morning seder a couple of weeks ago.  There; I said it.  What's the big deal, you ask?  I daven k'vasikin.  Still you are wondering what's the big deal?  Since we always daven at sunrise, my morning seder is learn then daven during the winter; daven then learn during the summer; learn a bit less, daven, learn a bit more during the spring; learn a bit more, daven, learn a bit less during the  autumn. …

Thought for the Day: ברוך השם Does Not Mean, "Thank G-d!"

As you may recall, I do not like answering queries about my well-being with the simple statement of faith: ברוך השם.  As many of my friends (and ex-friends, I suppose) know, I also don't like being answered that way.  When I answer non-Jews (except Christine and Ross, may he rest in peace), I pretty much give the same response; except that I substitute "Thank G-d" for ברוך השם.  Which brings us to today's thought.  "Thank G-d" is a a reasonable substitute for ברוך השם -- meaning that it satisfies the requirements of giving a real answer to the query and doesn't require any additional explanation -- but is not a translation of ברוך השם.

So... what does ברוך השם literally (more or less...) mean?  How is it used?  Why do we use that phrase/concept for those use cases?

Translating the word ברוך is harder than translating השם, but much easier to understand why we use it.  The word השם simply mean, "The name/reputation" ("The Name/Reputation&qu…

Thought for the Day: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "…

Thought for the Day: Answering the Question, "How are you?"

Stop me if I've told you this before.  Oh wait... you can't.  I mean, you can stop reading, but you can't stop me from writing.  Since I don't know if you are reading anyway, that doesn't really stop me.  Cool.

I think that is an apt introduction to the following statement: It can be tedious/frustrating to talk with me, as I tend to analyze everything.  (Some would say "over analyze"; I am not among them, but I am  certainly a sympathizer.)  I can trace this trait back to a lesson from by grandfather.  Grandpa was a professor of electrical engineering and nationally recognized educator.  He was in many, many ways my role model.  When I was about 10 he decided to teach me about how radios work.  Grandpa first explained the theory (which I will happily share with anyone who asks).  Then he drew a simple circuit, formulated a simple construction plan, gave me the materials and told to make it.  I nailed the big components onto a piece of wood and then solder…

Thought for the Day: Becoming Stupid and Reckless when Angry; Punishment or Reality?

Let's review: Anger: bad, really bad.

One of the things that happens with anger is that the angry person loses his wisdom and common sense.  (Which is a more politically correct way of saying that when you get mad, you get stupid and reckless.  We all know how important it is to me to be politically correct.)  The question is, though, whether that loss is a punishment for being angry or just the nature of the beast -- that anger is simply incompatible with wisdom.

Let's make that more concrete and less philosophical, ok?  My three year old granddaughter grabbed a spray bottle of Simple Green, a relatively non-toxic all purpose cleaner right before dinner.  I told her to put it down.  She waited till I washed for bread and knew I couldn't talk (they're very clever, especially when they are pushing the envelope), grabbed the spray bottle again and sprayed herself square in the face.  I grabbed the bottle and then her... her littlehands immediately flew back to protect yo…

Thought for the Day: אוושא מילתא Debases Yours Shabbos

My granddaughter came home with a list the girls and phone numbers in her first grade class.  It was cute because they had made it an arts and crafts project by pasting the list to piece of construction paper cut out to look like an old desk phone and a receiver attached by a pipe cleaner.  I realized, though, that the cuteness was entirely lost on her.  She, of course, has never seen a desk phone with a receiver.  When they pretend to talk on the phone, it is on any relatively flat, rectangular object they find.  (In fact, her 18 month old brother turns every relatively flat, rectangular object into a phone and walks around babbling into it.  Not much different than the rest of us, except his train of thought is not interrupted by someone else babbling into his ear.)

I was reminded of that when my chavrusa (who has children my grandchildrens age) and I were learning about אוושא מילתא.  It came up because of a quote from the Shulchan Aruch HaRav that referred to the noise of תקתוק.  N…

Thought for the Day: The Soul Is Learning to Live Forever in This World

Even if you haven't learned ישעיהו (and, I mean, who has?), you may know the following incident in the life of חִזְקִיָּהוּ, the righteous king of the kingdom of Yehuda who turned the kingdom around after the reign of his evil father אחז.  The king became deathly ill and Yerushalyim was surrounded by סַנְחֵרִיב, the Assyrian king who had never lost a campaign.  ישעיהו came to חִזְקִיָּהוּ to deliever a prophecy that he was going to die because he had failed to fulfill the mitzvah of having children.  Long story   short, חִזְקִיָּהוּ did t'shuva, was miraculously restored to health, and the entire army of סַנְחֵרִיב was miraculously destroyed over night.  חִזְקִיָּהוּ was overwhelmed with gratitude and published a letter of thanks and praise for HaShem.  In the midst of that letter, you will find this cryptic verse about how he felt at the height of his sickness when death seemed certain:
ישעיהו פרק לח
יא: אָמַרְתִּי לֹא-אֶרְאֶה יָהּ, יָהּ בְּאֶרֶץ הַחַיִּים; לֹא-אַבִּיט אָדָם …

Thought for the Day: ציצית -- The Tie That Binds

Check out this out!
הלכות ציצית סימן יא
סעיף יג, סוף ס''ק סד, שער ציון (*): עיין בא''ע סימן קכה ס''ד בט''ז סק''י דמחמיר שם, ואולי לענין תולמ''ה כל שהוא עושה מעשה הצריכה לעצם ההכשר. ועיין סוכה יא
I know, I know... brings tears to your eyes, right?  What's that?  You want some context?  Ah; good point.  Allow me to elaborate.

You would think that hilchos ציצית would be simple to the point of being nearly boring.  Ho-hum, four cornered garment, ho-hum eight threads, ho-hum five knots, ho-hum some windings between the knots.  I mean, we don't even have תכלת any more  (despite the blue threads you see intermingled in some people's ציצית; not really forbidden, but also not really תכלת). Sure there are some details in how big the garment needs to be, how long the threads need to be, what materials are good, etc.  Normal stuff.

Here's the complication: תעשה ולא מן העשוי (affectionately known by its abbreviation: תולמ''ה)…

Thought for the Day: מראית עין -- Demeaning, Suspicious, and Misleading Activities

I mostly live according to the implied mussar of this story: When I was 20 I was very worried about what everyone thought about me.  When I turned 30, I thought, "Who cares what they think about me?"  By 40, though, I realized... no one really thought about me one way or the other.  As it turns out, that story is akin to "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me."  That is, a good general principle, but clearly not always true.  Words can be very harmful, and they are sometimes seeing your actions and making a judgement.

Consider the following things that are all forbidden because of "what will the neighbors think!?".

Putting two holes on each corner of our tallis so the tzitzis go in and come back out on the same side of the garment.If you have two windows facing the street, leave one window without Chanukah lights.Except in case of dire need, putting wheat into a water mill before Shabbos.  More modern example?  On erev Shabbos, …

Thought for the Day: מוקצה is an All Day Affair

I know the title is more cutesy than usual.  In this case, the cutesiness is just gravy because the title expresses precisely what I want to express.  Deal.

There are several misconception about מוקצה, but a few stand out.  For example, people think it is forbidden touch מוקצה.  Nope; it is only forbidden to move מוקצה.  Note, however, that if the movement is a פסיק רישא/inevitable consequence and that itself could cause a violation of Shabbos (such as touching a hanging oil lamp), then the touching itself is also forbidden.  Other than that, go ahead and touch that hammer and pricey Lladro.

Here's another one: no problem moving the מוקצה item if you need it's place (hey!  I want to sit there!) or the item itself for something permissible (Honey, if you can't find that darn nutcracker again... just use the hammer. ).  Well... not so fast there Quicksdraw!  That rule is only true for a כלי שמלאכתו לאיסור/a tool/utensil whose main function is for a labor forbidden on Shabbos…